Jenner & Block partner David Savner left his post as general counsel at General Dynamics Corp. at the end of last year to rejoin the law firm. Savner had departed Jenner in 1998 to become senior vice president of the law department at the Falls Church, Va.-based defense contractor, and the following year he was named GC. He returns to Jenner’s corporate practice, where he will handle regulatory, governance, transactional, securities and other matters, the firm said. Temporarily based in the firm’s Washington office, Savner will be moving to the Chicago office next month. In an interview with The National Law Journal, he talked about the changed law firm environment to which he’s returned. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
NLJ: Why are you returning to law firm life at Jenner & Block and leaving your job as general counsel at General Dynamics?
DS: I retired [from General Dynamics]. I certainly wanted to remain active in the legal community, and I had been affiliated with Jenner & Block since 1987, and they seemed to want me to come back, and I certainly wanted to join them. And so that’s how it all came to pass. My intention was never to remain there [at General Dynamics] beyond 10 or 12 years. Age 65 worked out very well for retirement. I just decided that I wanted to get back to Chicago, which was our home.
NLJ: What has changed in law firm life since you were last a partner at Jenner 12 years ago?
DS: The large law firms have become even larger. It’s become a much more competitive marketplace. Many are trying to become global law firms, and I see that in some respects as a trend for the future.
NLJ: What different approach will you take to being a private practitioner now that you have 12 years of in-house experience behind you?
DS: I can better appreciate how the legal advice fits into the overall business strategy of a company. I understand how what I bring to the legal analysis has to fit into the overall business philosophy and strategy of the company.
NLJ: Are there cost pressures that you are better acquainted with now?
DS: The notion of unbounded hourly rates is going to be a continuing issue. I think law firms have to think through other kinds of fee arrangements that make them more cost-competitive and cost-effective for corporations.
NLJ: Are there ways in which you think law firms can better serve corporate clients?
DS: Law firms need to be focusing on finding the right people with the right skills, in the most cost-effective manner possible, for the right assignments. I think that’s always the challenge.
NLJ: What cases are you working on now?
DS: None. We’ll see what they want me to do.
NLJ: Are there any words of advice that you will bring back to Jenner’s management?
DS: Always concentrate on how your legal abilities can contribute to the overall business success of your corporate client.
NLJ: Have law firms revamped their structures sufficiently to meet today’s corporate client demands and financial constraints?
DS: They’re slowly beginning to understand it. It didn’t come easily. At least the law firms I’m familiar with [from General Dynamics], and we used a variety, were sensitive to the economic concerns that clients were facing. They’re in the process of understanding exactly what they need to do and how they have to do things more cost-effectively. I don’t get myself interested that much in hourly rates as to the overall cost-effectiveness. If someone can answer a question in an hour and I pay them $1,000 in an hour, that’s better than hiring someone at $500 who will take five hours to answer the question.
NLJ: Are there any particular changes by the firms that you consider most effective?
DS: I think every law firm has to decide for itself how it can make itself both relevant and cost-effective to its clients. That may be different for each firm. Each one has to solve it in their own particular way.
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